Africa Needs Scientific Infrastructure

The issue of the African ‘brain drain’ phenomena has been on the development agenda for more than a decade. Highly educated Africans have a tendency to migrate to better developed areas of the world where opportunities are more numerous and pay is higher. The impact on their home countries has been devastating (though its worth noting that remittances to Africa play a significant part in generating many countries foreign reserve capital and supporting poor families) as a serious lack of professionals has meant key services are unstaffed, in particular health care services.

International NGOs and governments have attempted to resolve the situation using several strategies but with little success. Dr Alvaro Sobrinho, the Planet Earth Institute and many other experts are now calling for a new approach. Specifically, these experts claim “African countries lack the infrastructure and entrepreneurial support needed to retain science graduates”. If young professionals are to be persuaded to stay in Africa, the continent needs to offer them the opportunities and resources they would find elsewhere.

Dr Alvaro Sobrinho has called for governments to increase domestic spending on science and technology and to work with private business to create an innovative business environment that gives graduates the chance to use their skills. This perspective is shared by Kelly Chibale, Professor of Organic Chemisty at the University of Cape Town; Chibale said that by “allowing people to put to work the training they’ve received, we can reverse brain drain.”

For his part, Professor Chibale returned to Africa after completing his PhD in the UK. He now heads up the Drug Discovery and Development Centre, H3D, which is working on a new anti-malaria drug. For more scientists to follow in the footsteps of Chibale a broader scientific infrastructure must be created, policy makers will be at the forefront of achieving this goal.

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